Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Board members review options for school construction

June 25, 2003

Nobody yet knows which school construction plan, if any, will fly.

During the last year, members of the district's facilities operations committee worked with architects from the DLR Group and came up with seven plans, all of which have been detailed in previous editions of The Mirror.

A year ago, board members hired the DLR Group to work with the school district on a contingency basis through a bond election and possible construction.

During the summer, board members plan to decide on their two or three favorite construction plans, which they will ask the facilities committee to consider in the fall.

The proposals range from constructing a new elementary school, a new middle school or a new high school, as well as renovating or adding onto existing buildings. One of the plans would take elementary classes out of the existing grade school, which could then be used for school-related purposes.

Any new school likely would be constructed on the district's 80 acres, just east of the intersection of Pleasant and Washington in southeast Tonganoxie.

The cost of the various plans, which board members reviewed last week during a special board meeting, range from $12 million upward to $22 million.

Who's buying houses?

Enrollment projections will influence any decision made.

Mitch Hanna, a former school superintendent who works with the DLR Group, said architects are using a combination of state enrollment projections, the number of Tonganoxie housing permits and the last three years of enrollment numbers to project the future enrollment.

Board member Richard Dean said that when using the number of new housing permits to calculate projected enrollment, it's important to look at the ages of the people who are buying the homes.

"The housing costs are getting to the point where young people with kids can't afford it," Dean said. "I'm wondering how many of these people who are moving in have kids."

Elementary school plan

Board member Ron Moore said he was distressed to learn that one of the plans most popular with the building committee called for building a new grade school and using the existing grade school for other district purposes.

"I'm having a hard time thinking about abandoning the grade school which is where 770 of our students are educated now and saying we don't need that," Moore said. "... It seems to be a waste of taxpayers' money."

Board member Rick Lamb referred to a question lodged by Dean at a previous board meeting.

"Dr. Dean asked the question of how were we able 10 years ago to have more than 800 students in the elementary school," Lamb said, adding that he had since looked into the question.

Lamb, whose wife, Becky Lamb, is a fifth-grade teacher at TES, said when the building schooled 800 students, the student-teacher ratios were higher. And, he said additional programs, such as the At Risk program and computer labs have now been added. Also, students no longer use marginal classroom spaces, such as the damp basement under the stage in the south gym. Teachers report having few, if any, places to hold private conversations with parents. Lamb detailed other faults of the building as well.

"The reality is that there's not anybody over there that's leading a cush life," Lamb said. "Everybody is making do."

A grade school could be a draw for the community, he added.

"If you have a really nice excellent elementary school, people are more likely to place their kids there and once they're there, they're more likely to stay through junior high and high school," Lamb said.

Lamb said his favorite option of the seven is Option 6, which would construct a new K-5 elementary school on the district's 80 acres and would leave the existing grade school open for other district purposes.

Board member Ron Moore said he agreed the grade school is hurting.

"The elementary school is where the attention needs to be," Moore said. "I'm not convinced that we need a new elementary school, but we need it expanded."

Lamb said an expansion would take away additional playground space, and he asked what would be done to handle increased parking demands.

It's important to be cautious, Moore said.

"We're reluctant to raise folks' taxes," Moore said. "That's why we've got to be so certain that we're doing what's right and that we're taking a frugal approach."

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